Sheet or divide for best artisan breads?

by Shane Whitaker
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Whether a bakery uses sheeting or volumetric dividers depends on the artisan bread being produced. Small products such as ciabatta rolls or baguettes are often made on sheeting lines, while bakeries use dividers to make larger loaf items. George Erasmus, vice-president, innovation, and head baker at Tribeca Oven, said he prefers sheeting lines for handling highly hydrated doughs. The Carlstadt, NJ-based artisan bread bakery is in the process of installing its first automated line for artisan breads, which will be capable of producing 6,000 lb per hour. But despite its high output, he pointed out, the line will not run at high speeds. “Because we are using a much wider line, we are able to go at slower speeds and get the quality and open structure [associated with artisan breads],” Mr. Erasmus said.

Mecatherm, Schirmeck, France, offers the patented Mecaflow divider that gently handles dough to guarantee bakers do not lose the benefits of resting time, according to Cyril Munsch, the company’s sales director. “The dough almost naturally flows into a calibrating channel, without going through an extruder, which would damage the dough structure,” he added. “The equipment accommodates a large width of dough, which means that the dough moves very slowly even at high production rates.”

Rheon USA, Irvine, CA, offers its V4 stress-free dough feeders for handling artisan bread doughs. This machine is designed to handle the widest ranges of dough types, including highly hydrated doughs with hours of floor time, according to Jon Thompson, the company’s national sales director.

Continuous weighing systems help to ensure accurate piece weights, and Rheon’s stress-free stretchers gently reduce the thickness of the dough sheet without degassing the dough. “The dough is stretched and not crushed by conventional gauging systems,” Mr. Thompson said.

Artisan breads fit into two categories: moulded or cut breads, according to Eric Riggle, vice-president, Rademaker USA, Hudson, OH. “Moulded breads encompass things like baguettes, and cut breads are represented by a product like ciabatta,” he said. “However, at Rademaker, we have been getting excellent results in making a baguette from a cut dough sheet rather than conventional moulding, resulting in a more open internal cell structure in the finished product because the dough is not degassed during the moulding process.”

Rademaker developed a new low-stress sheeting system that creates breads with higher absorption levels and that treats the continuous dough sheet in the gentlest manner possible, Mr. Riggle noted.

Doughs processed on sheeters generally have longer prefermentation times as opposed to those handled with volumetric dividers, and artisan products made with piston dividers oftentimes need an intermediate proof after dividing, according to Michel Eggebrecht, bakery consultant for WP Kemper Bakery Systems, Shelton, CT. By removing the dough band former, new sheeting lines from WP Kemper put less stress on dough, according to Dieter Knost, managing director of Werner & Pfleiderer Industrial Bakery Technologies, Tamm, Germany. Today, top-and-bottom-driven satellite heads very gently reduce the thickness of dough as it passes to the gauging rollers, he added.

For the past 10 years, many US bakeries have relied on sheeting lines for processing of artisan breads. However, Mr. Eggebrecht pointed out that sheeted dough doesn’t look as natural when trying to make larger artisan bread loaves. In addition, he noted that volumetric dividing has come a long way in the past few years in not putting as much stress on dough.

For more information on artisan bread production, check out the March 2011 issue of Baking & Snack magazine later this month.
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